Bill would help turn golf courses into affordable housing



(The Center Square) – Local governments in California that want to convert their golf courses into affordable housing could receive state funding to do so under a new bill introduced by a legislative committee.

The 1910 Assembly Bill, authored by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, would establish a program offering grants to local agencies to convert locally owned golf courses into housing and open public spaces. The proposal states that the golf course development must make 25% of new units affordable housing, and 15% of the development must be public open space.

Lawmakers advanced the bill Wednesday before the Assembly’s Housing and Community Development Committee.

Garcia Assemblyman D-Bell Gardens told lawmakers the bill would provide another tool for the state to address the housing crisis in Southern California. According to an analysis of the bill, California has about 1,100 golf courses, nearly 250 of which are owned by local governments. Given that the average size of a golf course is 150 acres, the analysis estimated that municipally owned golf courses in California could contain 375,000 moderate-density housing units.

Assemblywoman Garcia said that in very dense communities like hers, there aren’t many open spaces left and that golf courses could provide a way to expand housing options and accessible spaces to the public.

“This is a voluntary program for municipally owned golf courses for communities who wish to consider the possibility of converting them into a combination of open space and affordable housing to help meet two urgent needs in our community,” Garcia said Wednesday.

Ms Garcia introduced similar legislation in the last legislative session, although it did not pass the Assembly Appropriations Committee in January. His reintroduced legislation, AB 1910, will have to go through the same committee to get a floor vote.

Assemblyman Garcia’s past and current legislation has been pushed back by members of several golf associations, who say the bill “singles out” locally owned golf courses for development.

Nick Bailey, Vice President of the Northern California PGA Chapter, spoke on behalf of the California Alliance for Golf. He said the bill would reduce green space in communities that already lack it and “excommunicate golf from the parks and recreation family.” Bailey also noted that golf courses provide habitat, promote biodiversity and sequester carbon for the benefit of the surrounding community.

‘AB 1910 is causing considerably more damage than any real estate that could come from it,’ Mr Bailey told the committee.

Committee Deputy Chairman, Assemblyman Kelly Seyarto, R-Murrieta, who voted against the bill, raised concerns about maintaining access for young people in the community. He noted that several golf courses, including the Chester L. Washington course in Los Angeles, offer programs for youngsters who might not otherwise travel the extra 10 or 15 miles to access another course.

“I’m afraid losing space like this to them will impact their lives because if it’s not available in Chester L. Washington and it’s turned into housing instead, they won’t won’t have the opportunity,” Seyarto said.

In response, Assemblywoman Garcia said her bill creates a process for jurisdictions to have those conversations with the community, noting that community members would likely “step up” to advocate for the preservation of space.

Other lawmakers who have backed the bill said it would allow for local control while giving local governments the option of receiving funding if they choose to go ahead with development plans.

Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, said he has three public golf courses in his district, and over the past few years the city council has had discussions about whether to use land for housing. The council eventually refused to do so, but Mr. Kalra noted that if they later changed their minds, they would now have the option of receiving incentive funds from the state.

“We’re actually bringing that conversation down to the local level, and that’s what I really appreciate about this legislation,” Kalra said.

Ms Garcia’s bill was sent to the Assembly Committee on Local Government after Wednesday’s vote.

Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.

Michael C. Ford